Selling stock photos with Alamy – now over $350k and counting…
Back in August 2014 we caught up with longstanding Alamy contributor Keith Morris, as he hit the landmark figure of making $250,000 worth of image sales with us. It’s proven to be one of our most read blog posts and now, less than 3 years later, he’s passed another milestone – this time $350,000.
We thought it would be a good time to catch-up with Keith to ask him some follow-up questions and to see if he has any secrets of success to share about selling stock photos.
3 years on from our last chat and $100k’s worth of more sales. Have you changed your approach or is it the same formula working?
“Good question…mostly I’m doing the same sort of work as I’ve done in the past, but I’m putting a bigger emphasis on getting work into the Live News feed on an even more regular basis. My basic approach, though, has been to make sure that I keep my costs of production down as low as possible, so that even in an era of declining prices for stock imagery, I can still turn a profit on what I do.
I still don’t travel (my annual trips to Cirencester to run my stock photography workshop there are the only times I’ve been outside Wales in the last three years). I make a deliberate point of working as locally as possible – I usually walk or cycle everywhere – and there’s stuff to see and photographs to make just about everywhere. If you live in a big town or city – rather than a small town like I do – then you really have no excuse not to be able to make marketable images.”
What drew you to sign up with Alamy in the first place?
“I got involved on the recommendation of another Wales based photographer – Jeff Morgan – whose work I’d admired for a long time. I was already supplying photos to The Photolibrary Wales (now no longer in business), and had been working as a freelance press photographer for over 20 years, so I had a pretty good idea of what sort of work newspaper and magazine editors would be looking for.”
Stock photography is becoming more and more popular with professional photographers and proficient hobbyists alike – how do you approach being better than the competition when it comes to selling stock photos?
“Keeping one step ahead…! I’m not sure if I’m any better at the technical side of photography, but I’m pretty persistent in what I do, and I have a reasonably advanced understanding of the dark arts of captioning and keywording (or tagging, as Alamy now describes it). Alamy’s search engine is ‘blind’ – it can’t see the images, only the words that we as contributors chose to use to describe them. The picture may be the best in the world, but if the metadata is bad or inappropriate, then it’s never going to sell. I start the captioning and tagging process at the time I make the photo (and sometimes even before). I’m thinking in my head ‘what is going on in this photo? What is the story it’s telling? How and where could it be used? I’m constantly asking myself the 5 W’s of photo-journalism – who? what? where? why? when? If you answer all of those then the rest is easy!”
What’s your best-selling image to date?
“Ha! I’m not going to give away any big secrets! In this hyper – competitive business I need to keep a few things under my hat. But the mantra of ‘one person doing one thing’ has always been a good one to bear in mind when making stock photos. And it’s important to distinguish between (the few) photos that I’ve sold for big individual prices, and the pictures that have sold regularly, week after week, month after month, for many years – they may not get big single values, but the running total can be very healthy indeed. As stock photographers we’re all looking to get a good number of ‘potboilers’ in our portfolios – images that are good repeat sellers and which have long shelf-lives.”
What do you do to help yourself get motivated during those times when you feel less so?
“The fear of being poor is a good motivator! Because this is my job and livelihood, I can’t really afford to have periods of time when I’m not making photos. And I’m always striving to be better at what I do. If I ever thought that I had nothing new to learn then I’d call it a day. And I’m also fortunate in that I get commissioned to make work for a whole range of clients just about every day (in the last week or so I’ve done jobs for Tesco and Marks & Spencer, as well as the Welsh Government, the National Health Service and S4C), so I’m always being challenged creatively and technically in the work I do. I’m also working on a new book of photographs that is scheduled to be published in the summer of 2018 – so that is giving me something extra to think about.”
Three years ago you said your next aim was to have zero ‘blank’ days in any month – have you hit that goal?
“Not quite… I’ve had many months with only one or two blank days, but no “Alamy Full House” months yet! But I’m seeing more and more sales coming in on the weekends now – they used to be as rare as hens teeth but now I’ll get some Saturday and Sunday sales popping in just about every month. I’m averaging about 80 to 90 image sales a month, with the occasional 100+ month, so the average number of sales per week-day is four or five – I can afford to be a bit relaxed about the occasional null day.”
What’s the next goal/milestone you want to reach?
“2016 was my first 1000+ sales year. I’d like to match that again, and more, this year. If that happened then I’d get to the 7,000 total sales milestone by the end of the year too, which would be a nice double target to hit by the end of 2017.”
Do you have any tips for other editorial shooters who want to upload to Live News and really speed up their workflow to get their images in the news feed as quickly as possible?
“Yes – use new technologies as much as possible! Either by shooting news on your iPhone and sending it in via the Stockimo upload route, or by taking advantage of the increasing number of cameras which now have in-built WIFI to connect them to your phone and then use one of the range of free or very affordable apps that are out there to edit, caption, tag and zap in your images to the news feed by FTP (file transfer protocol). I do this a lot when I’m shooting ‘weather news’, where I’m competing with photographers from the entire UK, and where every second you can save in getting your photos into the feed can be crucial. I’ve lost track of the times where I’ve been shooting and filing pictures in ‘real-time’ in the middle of a storm in Aberystwyth, and the photos have been pinged out by the Alamy news team and are running on-line on UK newspaper websites before I’ve walked back to my house and taken my wet shoes off.
Stock photography has never been easier for people to get involved in, and that means its never been more difficult for anyone to make decent money. Not impossible, just considerably more difficult!”
If you’re not yet an Alamy contributor but have been inspired by Keith’s work and would like to give it a go, all the info you need is right here. If you already contribute to Alamy but are interested in submitting live news then you’ll want to give this a read.